View Poll Results: Is the word "girl" for an adult female human inherently offensive?
I'm a male human and I say yes. 25 13.37%
I'm a male human and I say no. 93 49.73%
I'm a female human and I say yes. 33 17.65%
I'm a female human and I say no. 24 12.83%
I have some other self-identification and/or opinion. 12 6.42%
Voters: 187. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 01-07-2019, 12:24 PM
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Is the word "girl" for an adult female human inherently offensive?

Should all these songs, for example, be modified to say "woman" to be inoffensive? Gwen Stephani needs to sing Hollaback Woman, Madonna Material Woman, Paula Abdul Forever Your Woman, Katie Perry I Kissed a Woman, Christina Aguilera What a Woman Wants, Pink Most Women, etc.? Are adult human females who use the term "girl" to describe other adult human females wrong, and in need of correction?



(Inspired by a tangent on this thread.)
  #2  
Old 01-07-2019, 12:26 PM
Ashtura Ashtura is offline
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No, it is not inherently offensive. Context and intent can make it offensive however.
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:52 PM
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No, it is not inherently offensive. Context and intent can make it offensive however.
Yeah.

Imperfect rule of thumb: If used as the counterpart of "man," it's offensive and demeaning (or juvenilizing, if that's a word). If used as the counterpart of "guy" (or "boy" even in reference to an adult), it isn't.

What makes the term problematic is that, in the sexist Bad Old Days, there was often an attitude that only men were the Grown-Ups, and referring to women as "girls" was a way of keeping them in their place. I'm imagining a 1950s executive saying something like "I'll have my girl [secretary] type that up and send it to you." (ETA: Written before I saw Omar Little's post directly above this one.) Of course, [sarcasm] nobody thinks that way anymore [/sarcasm], but the word isn't entirely free of such connotations.

Last edited by Thudlow Boink; 01-07-2019 at 12:55 PM.
  #4  
Old 01-07-2019, 12:27 PM
HurricaneDitka HurricaneDitka is online now
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I'm sure someone finds it offensive (some people are just touchy).
  #5  
Old 01-07-2019, 12:29 PM
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Context is king, as is pretty typical for social situations. "Girl" can be degrading, neutral, or empowering depending on context.
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:35 PM
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Context is king, as is pretty typical for social situations. "Girl" can be degrading, neutral, or empowering depending on context.
Sure you meant to say, context is gender-neutral monarch.
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:10 PM
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Sure you meant to say, context is gender-neutral monarch.
When women are actually fully in power - like some of the female pharaohs, or a few other monarchs throughout history - they tend to keep the same title. Even if people refer to them as "queens" in day to day speech, their legal title is identical. So however Context chooses to identify, they are legally a monarch holding the position of king :P

OP - I see you have added a poll, but none of your responses really describe my opinion.
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:44 PM
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I asked a friend if her girls would be coming home for xmas. Her girls are full grown women, but they are her girls. Context.
  #9  
Old 01-07-2019, 12:54 PM
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No word is inherently offensive. It takes cultural influence to deem a word offensive. It helps if people use the word to deliberately belittle other people in some way (even affectionately), but it's not a necessary element.

If you think that using the word "girl" to indicate an adult female could be offensive, you could try promoting that idea on social media. Maybe it would catch on.

That's really all that happens when other words become deemed offensive. The communication medium of the day is used to promote the idea.
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:47 PM
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The main context from which the notion that it's offensive arises is the lack of parallel use of "boy" for an adult male human, so that there's an asymmetry:

Female child: girl
Male child: boy
Female adult: girl
Male adult: man

In a patriarchal world—which privileges adulthood as well as maleness—that quickly got highlighted by feminists as politically suspicious. Fairness says if male people are men when they're adults, it is sexist to call female adults "girls"; they should be "women" obviously. Adding to the picture is the historical fact that adult males have not always and equally been called "men" — nonwhite (especially black) males of adult age were notoriously called "boy", and this underlines the claim that to refer to an adult by the juvenile term is disempowering and/or derogatory.

But no, not inherently offensive. One could (even as a fervent feminist) question why the male model for designating people is the one we should go with. Perhaps instead we should cease referring to anyone as a "man", since "man" is a patriarchal political construct if ever there was one, and instead discard the insistent emphasis on age diff and go with "girls" and "boys".

Last edited by AHunter3; 01-07-2019 at 12:48 PM.
  #11  
Old 01-07-2019, 12:54 PM
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Originally Posted by AHunter3 View Post
The main context from which the notion that it's offensive arises is the lack of parallel use of "boy" for an adult male human, so that there's an asymmetry:

Female child: girl
Male child: boy
Female adult: girl
Male adult: man

Since I used song titles in mocking the first idea, turnabout is fair play.
  #12  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by AHunter3 View Post
The main context from which the notion that it's offensive arises is the lack of parallel use of "boy" for an adult male human, so that there's an asymmetry:

Female child: girl
Male child: boy
Female adult: girl
Male adult: man

In a patriarchal world—which privileges adulthood as well as maleness—that quickly got highlighted by feminists as politically suspicious. Fairness says if male people are men when they're adults, it is sexist to call female adults "girls"; they should be "women" obviously. Adding to the picture is the historical fact that adult males have not always and equally been called "men" — nonwhite (especially black) males of adult age were notoriously called "boy", and this underlines the claim that to refer to an adult by the juvenile term is disempowering and/or derogatory.

But no, not inherently offensive. One could (even as a fervent feminist) question why the male model for designating people is the one we should go with. Perhaps instead we should cease referring to anyone as a "man", since "man" is a patriarchal political construct if ever there was one, and instead discard the insistent emphasis on age diff and go with "girls" and "boys".
Yes. And the "women do it too so it's all right" argument is, and will always be, ridiculous. Women believe and regurgitate without thinking the patriarchal BS they've been utterly steeped in their entire lives (and raised by women who'd also been)? How shocking! I loathe the term "woke," but it applies here. You don't know better until you learn better. You don't push back until you realize you have the right to push back.

So yeah, calling adult women "girls" is wrong and infantilizing and men and women need to stop using it.

Last edited by MoonMoon; 01-07-2019 at 01:04 PM. Reason: spelling
  #13  
Old 01-07-2019, 07:35 PM
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Yes. And the "women do it too so it's all right" argument is, and will always be, ridiculous. Women believe and regurgitate without thinking the patriarchal BS they've been utterly steeped in their entire lives (and raised by women who'd also been)? How shocking! I loathe the term "woke," but it applies here. You don't know better until you learn better. You don't push back until you realize you have the right to push back.

So yeah, calling adult women "girls" is wrong and infantilizing and men and women need to stop using it.
This is along the lines of why "guys" is NOT gender neutral. Yes, it's used to describe/address groups of any gender, but that's a symptom of our patriarchal society. Why else do you think "guys" is used in this way? How would men feel if a group of them were addressed as "gals"?
  #14  
Old 01-07-2019, 07:42 PM
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I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on the "guys" thing. To me, if someone says, "Hey guys!", a masculine connotation doesn't even occur.
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Old 01-07-2019, 07:54 PM
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Women believe and regurgitate without thinking the patriarchal BS they've been utterly steeped in their entire lives (and raised by women who'd also been)? How shocking!
Yeah, see? That's the problem right there, in a nutshell. Women just don't think.
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Old 01-07-2019, 08:09 PM
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"Girl" is almost always acceptable in informal situations, especially when the speaker is a woman. I have a coworker friend in her 50s, and we both call each other "girl" whenever it is just the two of us.

"Girl" is problematic in professional settings. Youthfulness is a typically considered a virtue, but no one wants to be perceived as a child. It is hard to take a "girl" seriously.
  #17  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:09 PM
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Parallelism is definitely important here. Referring to "men" and "girls" is inappropriate, unless you are actually referring to "adult male human beings" and "non-adult female human beings". Is it appropriate to refer to a female human being as a "girl"? Well, in that particular context, would it be appropriate to refer to a human being of the opposite sex as a "boy"? If not, don't call a female human being a "girl". And "boy" can also be very fraught, especially in the singular, and most especially when mixed with race. (But even between two adult white males, "Don't mess with me, boy" is obviously dismissive at best.)
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The main context from which the notion that it's offensive arises is the lack of parallel use of "boy" for an adult male human, so that there's an asymmetry
But sometimes, even in very traditional uses, "boy" is used for "adult male human being", in an informal, often affectionate, and non-demeaning way:

"Poker night with the boys." "C'mon boys, let's show 'em!" "Attaboy!" "Old boys club".

Throwing in "guys" instead of "boys" as a parallel to "girls" (or "gals") means there are even more situations which are symmetrical. So, as is so often the case, "it depends".
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  #18  
Old 01-07-2019, 05:40 PM
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Parallelism is definitely important here. Referring to "men" and "girls" is inappropriate, unless you are actually referring to "adult male human beings" and "non-adult female human beings". Is it appropriate to refer to a female human being as a "girl"? Well, in that particular context, would it be appropriate to refer to a human being of the opposite sex as a "boy"? If not, don't call a female human being a "girl". And "boy" can also be very fraught, especially in the singular, and most especially when mixed with race. (But even between two adult white males, "Don't mess with me, boy" is obviously dismissive at best.)

But sometimes, even in very traditional uses, "boy" is used for "adult male human being", in an informal, often affectionate, and non-demeaning way:

"Poker night with the boys." "C'mon boys, let's show 'em!" "Attaboy!" "Old boys club".

Throwing in "guys" instead of "boys" as a parallel to "girls" (or "gals") means there are even more situations which are symmetrical. So, as is so often the case, "it depends".
But note that most of these uses are including the speaker, with the one exception - "Attaboy" - being the word specifically praising the person being referenced.

OTOH, (men) how would you feel if an authority figure called you "boy"? That's almost invariably used to tell you that you are a child to them.
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  #19  
Old 01-07-2019, 06:20 PM
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That's almost invariably used to tell you that you are a child to them.
Data point of 1, but: diminutives amongst dudes is more often than not a positive thing hinting at an avuncular bond. I've never taken exception to it. I've only been in the presence of a handful of women with authority over me (2 army officers, 1 bank manager), curiously they all dropped a "boy" on me at one time or another. How it felt is difficult to describe because I don't know the womany version of avuncular.
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  #20  
Old 01-07-2019, 06:28 PM
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How it felt is difficult to describe because I don't know the womany version of avuncular.

Avauntcular.
  #21  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:11 PM
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The main context from which the notion that it's offensive arises is the lack of parallel use of "boy" for an adult male human, so that there's an asymmetry:

Female child: girl
Male child: boy
Female adult: girl
Male adult: man
But we do frequently refer to adult men as boys. Off the top of my head:

Good old boys (sometimes affectionately, sometimes not)
Bring the boys back home. (wanting to end a war.)
"Come on, you boys in red!" (heard at soccer games)
Boys in blue (referring to police officers)

Normally in sports a school or organization will have the boy's team and the girl's team, or the men's team and the women's team, but rarely (if ever) the men's team and the girl's team or the boy's team and the women's team.
  #22  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:37 PM
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Bring the boys back home. (wanting to end a war.)
I don't have the exact quote, and I think it's from Cokie Roberts. She was remarking how during the Gulf War instead of talking about "Bringing our boys back home" we now talk about "Bringing them men and women of the armed services back home". She remarked that it was yet another way that women have turned boys into men.
  #23  
Old 01-08-2019, 06:13 PM
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The main context from which the notion that it's offensive arises is the lack of parallel use of "boy" for an adult male human
That's absolutely not true in the UK. Boy is commonly used for adult men. "Me and the boys are going to the boozer tonight", "My dear boy..." (though you need to be grandfatherly), "How are your boys doing?" (when the boys are grown men in their 50s), "Give me the word and I'll send the boys round", "Yes, the boys will be round mid-afternoon to finish the painting", and so on. You can substitute lads for boys and lassies for girls.

And I'm firmly of the opinion that a sufficiently skilled orator can make anything offensive.
  #24  
Old 01-07-2019, 12:47 PM
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Context

Was interviewing a candidate for our group (primarily degreed professionals on a business development team). Candidate was doing extremely well throughout the day...until the end, when he asked if we could get our "girl" to call him a taxi. He was referring to one of our administrative assistants. We passed on him.
  #25  
Old 01-07-2019, 03:49 PM
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Context

Was interviewing a candidate for our group (primarily degreed professionals on a business development team). Candidate was doing extremely well throughout the day...until the end, when he asked if we could get our "girl" to call him a taxi. He was referring to one of our administrative assistants. We passed on him.
Oh dear. Not just girl, but your girl. Somebody's degree program overlooked socialization.
  #26  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:05 PM
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I said no, but only because I mean absolutely no offense--same as if I address my peers as 'boys'--if I apply 'girl' to an adult female. But yeah, context and knowing the audience's pet peeves. Typically I go to "ladies".

But I'm also giggling how the poll assumes female humans will always say yes.
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Last edited by Inigo Montoya; 01-07-2019 at 01:07 PM.
  #27  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:07 PM
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I'm a female human and I say yes.
I'm a female human and I say yes.
Please get a mod to fix your poll.

I voted "yes" because there is no "no" choice and also because it usually (but not always) is offensive. Context! It is much more likely to be offensive when used by a boy than by a woman .
  #28  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:09 PM
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Please get a mod to fix your poll.
Fixed.
  #29  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:18 PM
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In the sixties (and I'm assuming before), calling a woman a woman was often considered to be demeaning. The polite term was lady and if you didn't use that, you were implying that she was somehow less than a lady. Hence the comedy satire group, LAW (Ladies Against Women).
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:29 PM
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In the sixties (and I'm assuming before), calling a woman a woman was often considered to be demeaning. The polite term was lady and if you didn't use that, you were implying that she was somehow less than a lady. Hence the comedy satire group, LAW (Ladies Against Women).
"Men" paired with "Ladies" would also sound wrong to me. Again, parallelism:

Gentlemen and Ladies
Women and Men
Girls and Boys
Guys and Gals
Females and Males*
Brothers and Sisters
Mamas and Papas
Dudes and, uh, Dudettes?

*Using "female" and "male" as nouns can also be offensive, in some contexts. I tend to associate it with "police-speak", and it can be racially charged, although obviously that isn't always the case: Single White Male, Single White Female, and so on.
  #31  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:37 PM
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In California, "guys" can refer to either sex/gender, which can confuse folks from other states.
  #32  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:53 PM
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*Using "female" and "male" as nouns can also be offensive, in some contexts. I tend to associate it with "police-speak", and it can be racially charged, although obviously that isn't always the case: Single White Male, Single White Female, and so on.
I tend to relate better to machines than to people. To me, "female" invokes a flicker of meaning along the lines of "some thing you stick something else into". Like one of these (which, curiously, has a decidedly male element to it). I avoid using the term with humans whenever it is not obnoxious to do so.

It is mind-blowing to think someone would think it appropriate to refer to an employee as "boy" or "girl" unironically. Like, super old people maybe, but certainly not pre-retirement types.

Last edited by Inigo Montoya; 01-07-2019 at 01:55 PM.
  #33  
Old 01-07-2019, 02:00 PM
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Gentlemen and Ladies
Women and Men
Girls and Boys
Guys and Gals
Females and Males*
Brothers and Sisters
Mamas and Papas
Dudes and, uh, Dudettes?
There seem to be few neutral and non-infantilizing slang words for women. What are the female parallels to the following?

U.S.: guy, dude
U.K.: fellow, bloke, chap

I don't think guy and gal are equivalent - gal is just an informal equivalent to girl, whereas guy is not infantilizing. That could account for why guy is tending to become gender-neutral in some dialects.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-07-2019 at 02:02 PM.
  #34  
Old 01-08-2019, 05:04 PM
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In the sixties (and I'm assuming before), calling a woman a woman was often considered to be demeaning. The polite term was lady and if you didn't use that, you were implying that she was somehow less than a lady. Hence the comedy satire group, LAW (Ladies Against Women).
Eh, not so much. The term woman was only considered an insult if it was spoken to clearly indicate the person wasn't a lady--that is, didn't conform to social norms for women in appearance, conduct, language, etc. But in all other contexts, it was fine. The beginning of the popular TV show Ben Casey began with "Man, woman, birth, death, infinity." Then there were the songs: "When a Man Loves a Woman," "Pretty Woman," etc.These were obviously not intended as insults.

Actually, it was the rise of feminism in the Sixties that led to the eventual decline in the use of the term lady as a term that confined women to the restrictive social norms of the day. The 1970s bestseller The Women's Room, featured a cover in which the word "Ladies" was crossed out on the sign, "Ladies Room."

That doesn't mean lady disappeared, of course. In 1971, Tom Jones had a huge hit with "She's a Lady," a Paul Anka song. Anka rewrote the first verse in 2013 because he now disliked its "chauvinism." The original:

Well, she's all you'd ever want
She's the kind I like to flaunt and take to dinner
But she always knows her place
She's got style, she's got grace, she's a winner


You can see why "she always knows her place" might offend women now, and why, even to Anka's conservative eyes, seems a little...dated.
  #35  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:11 PM
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I think it's the least bad of many bad options for a one-syllable informal term for a grown female human. Dame, gal, chick, are some of the the least offensive options.

I don't use the term myself, that said, I reserve to think of anyone who is half my age or younger as a girl or boy no matter their age, even if I don't say so out loud.
  #36  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:13 PM
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"the boys of Pointe du Hoc" too
  #37  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:16 PM
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Ok so now that we have consensus that it's not INHERENTLY offensive, let's talk about how it often IS offensive. Everyone should learn the difference.
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:18 PM
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Another vote for it depends on context.
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:23 PM
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The article that inspired this thread was:

HuffPost - Fiji Water Girl Steals The Show During Golden Globes Red Carpet

I don't think they were trying to belittle or demean her with the word (although Chronos took issue with it).

Last edited by HurricaneDitka; 01-07-2019 at 01:24 PM.
  #40  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:35 PM
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This is one of those places where an old guy seems less offensive than a younger guy.

I remember old bosses who would make a comment like "I'll check with the girl at the front desk" or something like that, and it flew right under the radar and seemed like something old guys say.

But unless you are nearing retirement age, it sounds offensive without without very specific context.
  #41  
Old 01-07-2019, 01:46 PM
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Thinking about it some more, the existence of "guy" really muddies the waters. Take "I'll check with the girl at the front desk". Saying "I'll check with the boy at the front desk" would be really weird (unless someone's twelve-year-old son is filling in at Reception today.) But, would you have said "I'll check with the man at the front desk" or "I'll check with the guy at the front desk"? Perhaps "girl" should be reserved strictly for situations in which "boy" would be appropriate ("Girls' night out":"Poker with the boys"), and "gal" should be used as the parallel for "guy" ("The gal at the front desk was friendly enough, until I told her I was a private dick; then she got pretty frosty with me"), but in speech that's going to be almost impossible to distinguish.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:37 PM
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Thinking about it some more, the existence of "guy" really muddies the waters. Take "I'll check with the girl at the front desk". Saying "I'll check with the boy at the front desk" would be really weird (unless someone's twelve-year-old son is filling in at Reception today.) But, would you have said "I'll check with the man at the front desk" or "I'll check with the guy at the front desk"? Perhaps "girl" should be reserved strictly for situations in which "boy" would be appropriate ("Girls' night out":"Poker with the boys"), and "gal" should be used as the parallel for "guy"
"...the lady at the front desk" would be a suitable analog to "...guy..." to me.

"Gal" sounds folksy and outdated to me.
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:37 PM
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Since it was my comment that prompted this, I'll weigh in: There are contexts where it's not offensive, which are basically the same contexts where it'd be inoffensive to refer to an adult male as a "boy". But in most contexts, it would be considered out of place to use "boy", but nonetheless still common, for some reason, to use "girl". Since the offensive contexts are more common than the inoffensive ones, I answered "inherently offensive" in the poll.

I also mentioned in the other thread that this usage sometimes creates ambiguity of meaning. For instance, in a book I read a couple of years ago, a male character who's off exploring the wilderness encounters and rescues a female character. The male character is unambiguously an adult: He's referred to as a "man", and I think his age might even have been given. The female character's age is never given, and she's referred to as a "girl". And it's relevant if she's an adult or not: If she's actually an adult, then one might expect their subsequent interactions to be colored by romantic tensions, but not if she's, say, 13.

Nor is this the only way in which language routinely infantilizes women. For instance, a particularly attractive woman might be referred to as a "babe", which literally means an infant. The male equivalent, meanwhile, "hunk", literally means a large piece of something, and is not infantile at all.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:38 PM
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Nor is this the only way in which language routinely infantilizes women. For instance, a particularly attractive woman might be referred to as a "babe", which literally means an infant. The male equivalent, meanwhile, "hunk", literally means a large piece of something, and is not infantile at all.
Hmm, 'babe' is pretty commonly used by women to describe attractive men as well. Commoner than 'hunk' in my personal experience.

We could probably use a new informal term for a woman, but that tends not to be the sort of project that goes well. I know someone who was seethingly furious about a waitress asking him and his wife 'So, what can I get you guys?' because how dare anyone call his wife a guy, not a lady?! Told everyone he knew never to go to that restaurant, complained to the manager, left scathing reviews everywhere, the works.
Yes, he's pretty old.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:42 PM
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Hmm, 'babe' is pretty commonly used by women to describe attractive men as well.
Really? In what region/dialect/age group? I don't think I've ever heard this.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:49 PM
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Ever heard of "Girls Night Out" or "Chick Flick"?

Women use those terms all the time so it can depend on context.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:54 PM
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Ever heard of "Girls Night Out" or "Chick Flick"?

Women use those terms all the time so it can depend on context.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Riemann View Post
Really? In what region/dialect/age group? I don't think I've ever heard this.
I was about to post the same as well, although I can't think of a dialect. My guy feeling is it's about equal to "hunk" but I might be wrong.

At any rate, moving beyond physical attraction and to the romantic, "boy/baby" and "girl/baby" seem to be used fairly gender-equally to describe an actual or potential intimate partner.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:59 PM
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At any rate, moving beyond physical attraction and to the romantic, "boy/baby" and "girl/baby" seem to be used fairly gender-equally to describe an actual or potential intimate partner.
Yes, "my baby" is certainly used by women to refer to a male partner. What I'm questioning is the use of "a babe" to describe an attractive man. I've never heard that, and although I'm older I would have thought it would have come up in TV/movies.
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Old 01-07-2019, 03:34 PM
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Really? In what region/dialect/age group? I don't think I've ever heard this.
UK. Mid 30s, but it's not new here.

I don't think I've ever heard a guy called a 'hunk' in anything other than a somewhat dismissive or sarcastic manner here, 'Seen Emma's new hunk? Brains like a bullock'. On the other hand, 'Seen the new barman? Total babe' would be utterly unremarkable.

The fact that deliberately trying to change the language, or add words as an 'equal alternative' just doesn't work was kinda my point. Even an innocuous attempt to make a word gender neutral can really upset people.

It would be very nice if there was another word, but deciding there should be one is when you wind up with stuff like 'wymyn'. And no one wants that.

Last edited by Filbert; 01-07-2019 at 03:34 PM.
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